This past spring I found myself browsing my gym’s magazine racks for some light reading material while on the elliptical (naturally), and was stopped in my search upon noticing an issue of Women’s Health Magazine calling to “End Mental Health Stigma” right from the cover page.
Granted, it was the smallest of the cover page headlines, but as a recoveree and someone susceptible to clinical depression, I wholeheartedly believe mental health deserves all the press and praise it can get. Talking about it once or twice isn’t talking about it enough.
According to the May 2016 issue’s published study:
78% of women suspect they have a mental illness
65% have been diagnosed
60% didn’t receive treatment in the past year
[Note: Comparable research shows similar statistics for males.]
Numbers like these are alarming and clearly prove none of us are alone in the battle, no matter how lonely, isolated, or stigmatized we tend to feel. Through my own personal experiences and witnessing others cycle and struggle with it over the years, I’ve come to discover a few noteworthy things about joining the fight against mental illnesses (whether for ourselves or for a friend).
Here are 5 Ways to “Be…” a part of the victory when a loved one is struggling with depression, disordered eating &/or other mental health concerns:
1. Be open.
If you see someone struggling or not acting like their normal selves, talk to them. Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t judge. Ask them questions. Allow them to feel safe. You don’t have to fix or solve their “problems”. You don’t have to have the perfect encouragement or response. Don’t initially jump at the opportunity to compare or even give advice. Just listen. Words received and protected by your two ears can be the greatest gift you could ever give.
2. Be an “elevator”.
Be gentle but don’t walk on eggshells around one another. Once you’ve begun establishing trust, speak the truth in grace and love. Allow the person to feel safe by providing words of honor, hope, help, and healing. You meet them where they’re at, but you don’t leave them there.
I’ll never forget my Dad’s ability to come to me, tears welling in my eyes, not wanting to even be hugged or comforted; and still, he’d put his arm around me, literally walk forward with me, and open my eyes to what else was happening in the world around me. It was uplifting and broadened my perspective, rather than allowing me to stay caged to my current state.
Without words, he showed me that life was for the living and that numbness was a feeling, not my true nature.
3. Be an advocate.
Look at the person for who they are and not what they’re dealing with. Talk to the human, not at the disorder. Remember they/you are created in God’s image and there is a plan and a purpose for their/your life.
“Because mental illnesses are just that: illnesses, not moral failings or shameful secrets.” [Women’s Health Mag] #whonotwhat
4. Be a prayerful intercessor.
Pray for them (& pray for yourself). Encourage them to go to God with their sadness and suffering, to be filled with the joy and peace of trusting in Him (Romans 15:13). Being depressed does not make someone a failed Christian, and it most definitely doesn’t make you unworthy of God’s restorative power. It makes you ripe for it. It is so imperative to be enveloped in the word, worship, and community – even when you/they’d rather isolate.
Sometimes the days we want to keep to ourselves are the very days we need to reach out.
God is the ultimate comforter, healer, and deliverer; and more often than not, people are his vessels.
5. Be patient.
Above all, we have to hold the virtue of patience with great regard in our hearts because sometimes lifting the fog takes time.
Don’t rush the healing process because there’s so much purpose to be birthed out of the pain. There is beauty in progress. And there is power in perseverance. We don’t know why or how long it will take to run its course, but we can be optimistic that it will, and you/they that will be stronger for it.
It’s ok if your heart breaks for others, for “it is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us; it is the very sign of His presence” (C.S. Lewis).
To share a biblical reference, in the book of Genesis, there was a woman named Hagar – the servant/maid of Abraham’s wife, Sarah. One night she ran into the wilderness carrying her shame and the hurt of betrayal and manipulation in a state of desperation. It was then that an angel of the Lord greeted her in the very midst of her messy situation. He extended her a promise of hope and healing and reoriented her to whose she was. Hagar lifted her gaze and called the Lord, “El Roi” – the God of seeing.
“Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” [Genesis 16:13]
In that moment, she knew in her heart forever, she’d never be alone. Never too far gone. Never out of His sight. Never forgotten. Rather – seen, restored, and provided for.
We can grab a hold of these promises for ourselves, for our loved ones, and as God’s image-bearers, we can demonstrate that we ‘see’ each other, too.
Even if just for the next ten minutes, let’s try walking in the conviction that we’re called to play a bigger part. If for no other reason than standing in this truth:
If our God is for us, who could ever be against us?” [Romans 8:31]
Depression is a force. It drags and it pulls, and sometimes we just have to be willing to fight and push back, knowing we have the champion of all heavy-weights on our side.
If we really mean it on social media when we say #liveauhentic, let’s it ring true as we illuminate that we’re in a hurting world. Let us be a generation who “[doesn’t] curse the darkness but lights a candle” (Steve Kelly).
God has called us to be kind – to be of power, love, and a sound mind [2 Timothy 1:7]. Not to worry about the outcome.
Let’s rise up in better mental health & true happiness, together.
Let’s play our part.
Let’s claim victory.
Today is the dawn.